The new PS Plus is not a Game Pass killer but it delivers in spades
Sony is not Microsoft but gamers should actually be thankful for that in 2022 and beyond, here’s why
Sony’s revamped PlayStation Plus service — which went through the “will they/won’t they” phase, the “we’re still figuring it out” phase and the “OK, we’re doing this” phase in the space of six months — is available all around the world today, now that Europe gets it after Japan and the US. It’s not just a major milestone for Sony and its efforts in the subscription services market, but also a turning point for PlayStation because of the way media outlets, investors and consumers alike will inevitably compare the new PS Plus to Microsoft’s Game Pass.
It is a rather easy, if lazy, comparison. Chances are that, if Game Pass hadn’t been successful, PlayStation gamers would not be having the new PS Plus options offered today any time soon, yes (if ever). But evaluating the new service in the context of Microsoft’s Game Pass is not fair to Sony’s efforts or philosophy and, most importantly, it does not help PlayStation owners decide whether the two new PS Plus tiers are worth the upgrade or how to choose between them. So, was the new PS Plus worth the wait? What does it get right and what does it get wrong? Is PS Plus Extra or PS Plus Premium the tier most gamers should go for? Here are some answers.
PS Plus Extra is mightily impressive
As a quick reminder, the new PS Plus consists of three tiers: Essential, Extra and Premium. The first one offers what PS Plus used to offer up until now, the second one adds a catalog of around 430 PS4 and PS5 games (installable at any time), while the third one adds a library of 365 (stream-only) PS3 games and around three dozen (installable) PS2, PSone or PSP games. It’s clear that, in terms of pure volume of games offered, the Extra tier represents absolutely amazing value at $99.99/€99.99 per year — higher than that of Game Pass, actually, offering more games as a whole, as well as more recent games (Game Pass includes quite a few previous Xbox generations’ games), while being cheaper too. Few people expected Sony to pull that off, so it’s definitely a nice surprise for PlayStation gamers everywhere.
The elephant in the room, of course, is the fact that Sony will not be bringing its new PS4/PS5 AAA releases on PS Plus for free, as Microsoft does for its new AAA Xbox titles on Game Pass. This has been discussed and over-analyzed to such an extent that there really is no point offering more hot takes other than this remark: Microsoft does this because (a) it has no other choice and (b) because it simply can, while Sony doesn’t because (a) it can’t afford to and (b) because that’s not how the company wants to handle its valuable game franchises. That’s all.
Having said that, it’s encouraging to see that the Japanese included practically all of their AAA productions of the last decade but also a generous number of their own recent AAA PS4/PS5 hits (as recent as 9 months back), just not the most recent ones, such as GT7 or Horizon: Forbidden West.
A long, careful look at the PS Plus Extra list for top productions other than Sony’s reveals another pleasant surprise: yes, there are many fillers included (arriving at a total of 430 games would be impossible with AAA hits only) but there are so many third-party quality titles here that it would take more than a year to play them all to completion. Just Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Red Dead Redemption 2, Fallout 4, Pillars of Eternity, Everspace plus a few others would be enough for that all on their own. There’s also enough variety to keep everyone happy, as practically all game genres are represented by more than a few good examples each. If almost two dozen top indie gems — such as Celeste, Dead Cells and Hollow Knight — are taken into account, it’s clear that in terms of overall quality Sony delivered.
The more one compares the PS Plus Extra tier to the PS Plus Essential one, in fact, the easier it is to arrive at the obvious conclusion: if Sony’s (secret?) goal with the new PS Plus was to have as many current PS Plus subscribers as humanly possible upgrade to PS Plus Extra, then that goal is achieved: there’s simply no point in paying $59.99/€59.99 yearly just for online multiplayer and the occasional quality free monthly game, when one can pay just $30/€30 more to also have all those quality games available at any given time.
In that sense, PS Plus Extra is now the “default” PS Plus tier for most PlayStation owners, while PS Plus Essential is practically downgraded to “legacy” status: unless Sony decides to seriously lower its cost, it will probably fade on its own — or be kept around as an overpriced option just for access to the PSN and not much else.
PS Plus Premium is much less exciting, much more confusing
The proposition and value of PS Plus Extra are crystal clear and most PlayStation gamers would have probably been fine with it, but Sony chose to add another tier above it — and that’s where things get complicated. This is, essentially, the company’s way of incorporating its former game streaming service, PlayStation Now, into PS Plus — which is both a good thing and a bad thing. For people who really are interested in playing PS3 games that way, via streaming, a PS Plus Premium subscription is mandatory but it also comes with everything the PS Plus Extra tier offers. For people who are more interested in other aspects of the Premium tier, though, PS3 game streaming is a headline feature they’ll be paying for without making use of, so… yeah.
PS Plus Premium subscribers also have access to a number of PSone, PS2 and PSP titles. The PlayStation community does include many gamers old enough to remember some of those games fondly, but these titles run through emulation with somewhat mixed results (we Europeans also get the 50 Hz versions which run slower than the US ones… for now), they are rather few (about three dozen titles across all three formats) and, as a result, they are hardly a solid reason to go for the Premium tier over the Extra one. Nostalgia is still at play in the entertainment market and retro gaming is still a thing, but this is a niche feature and Sony knows it, so it’s fair to be regarded more as a bonus than anything else.
What is an important feature of mainstream interest — one that, rather shrewdly, Sony offers to PS Plus Premium subscribers but not to PS Plus Extra ones — is Game Trials: these are time-limited demo versions of games that can give consumers a good idea of what a new title is like to play before buying, so they are obviously useful. There are rumors making the rounds that Sony will be asking all developers to provide Game Trials versions of games above a certain price point, but this is not officially confirmed yet.
If that is indeed the case, then Game Trials could be a PS Plus Premium feature worth paying the additional $20/€20 annually over PS Plus Extra. As things stand right now, though, the fifteen or so Game Trials demos currently on offer are not enough to justify that price difference.
Broadly speaking, of course, PS Plus Premium does offer a lot of value for money by providing access to more than 800 games in various forms for $119.99/€119.99 annually. It is a very attractive content offer in and of itself. But PS4/PS5 owners will obviously be way, way more interested in top PS4/PS5 titles than streamed PS3 or emulated PS1/PS2/PSP titles, so this Premium tier is reserved for people who just have to have the best of everything regardless of cost. In the current economic climate those might not be as many as Sony would have liked, but this might also be working in Extra’s favor… psychologically speaking: “Nah, I won’t pay for stuff I don’t need all that much, I’m good with the PS Plus Extra games, I’ll just go with that”. See? Instant guiltless PS Plus upgrade from the Essential tier right there!
It’s not all roses… but this is a clear step forward for PS Plus
The Web thrives on controversy, of course, so mere seconds after the revamped PlayStation Plus went live in Europe people everywhere were already commenting on how the service compares to Game Pass based on their expectations. It’s not a pointless discussion to have, but it sure is missing the point: Sony simply isn’t in a position to give away to 50 million subscribers new games each costing up to 150 million dollars to make just because a few thousand angry PlayStation fans demanded it. The Japanese cannot afford to burn money the way Microsoft does with its own first-party games: Sony needs the revenue generated from those AAA blockbuster retail sales in order to fund the next wave of such hits. It’s a model the company has been successfully following for a long time and to just abandon it because Microsoft is following a different model isn’t a reasonable demand to make.
Focusing on a direct comparison between the revamped PS Plus and Game Pass is also not helping people see how they both fit into the bigger picture: it’s actually a good thing that these services do not mirror each other. The gaming market and the entertainment industry as a whole need more variety and choice, not less. Microsoft chooses to use its exclusive games one way, Sony chooses to do something else with its own, Nintendo chooses neither and it’s doing pretty well without even considering going down the “your subscription money for my content chest” path Microsoft and Sony followed. Many publishers or independent developers chose to participate in this “subscription revolution” happening, many do not. It’s all good: these different strategies lead to more market choices. Consumers want to play the best games possible for as little money as possible, but this does not mean that all companies can or should offer the same things in the same way — and that’s perfectly fine.
Judged on its own merits Sony’s revamped PlayStation Plus service is, honestly, much better than many of us expected. Is it perfect? No. The way the company structured its tiers is somewhat confusing and unnecessarily complicated, for instance, as the Premium one does not offer PS4/PS5 owners many incentives to pick that over Extra. That might change in time, but — as things stand right now — it’s hard to recommend Premium to PlayStation gamers other than those really into game streaming.
There’s also the matter of timing to consider: the new PS Plus comes rather late in the lifetime of the PS4, so it’s practically a given that long-time PS4 owners already own some, several or many of the games included in the Extra tier’s catalog. That was to be expected but, since games will be rotating in and out of the PS Plus catalog on a regular basis (we expect timely information on both…), even for PS4 players with quite extensive libraries there will always be something new to play. For the very same reason, obviously, PS5 owners are getting a much better deal since they gain access to quite a few relatively new AAA games for their system still commanding full prices in retail.
Ultimately — and ironically, since this has always been the whole point behind Microsoft’s Game Pass, no? — it is the cost of PlayStation Plus Extra that wins the day. Having access to 430 PS4/PS5 games for $99.99/€99.99 a year — just $20/€20 more than what one new PS5 game costs nowadays, let us not forget — represents an amazing value that’s very hard to ignore. Subscribing to that tier or upgrading from PS Plus Essential is the easiest recommendation one can make to the PlayStation community right now.
People will still have to buy God of War: Ragnarok at full price later this year, yes. But being able to play Returnal, Demon’s Souls, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Red Dead Redemption 2, The Artful Escape plus the best versions of Ghost of Tsushima, Control and Death Stranding — all for less than $100/€100 — in the meantime, well, more than makes up for that. Frankly, this is all PS4/PS5 owners need to know. Now, about those Game Trials…